Undergraduate Seminar: Exhibiting Calligraphic Modernism
Not all artists aim for universal communication. In a modern world of heavily policed borders meant to contain identities, languages, and beliefs within fixed ideas of citizenship, an artist’s address to an audience takes place in a terrain of highly consequential differentiation. This seminar is devoted to exploring a particularly rich set of artistic strategies for marking, reimagining, and mobilizing difference in the 20th century: “calligraphic modernism,” or the use of calligraphic text and text forms by artists in postcolonial North Africa, West Asia, and South Asia to show and/or critique modernist values of legibility, reproducibility, and secularity. Our inquiry will proceed as a project of collective co-curation. We will research and plan an exhibition for the display cases in the Brown Gallery in Doe Library, set to open in February 2023, using materials from our library, archives, and elsewhere to present calligraphic modernism to a campus audience. How can we show these artworks to others in ways that invite recognition without purporting to fully translate or “decode” their linguistic elements? What does it mean to put language on display? And how do we remain true to our own contingent positions as world citizens who can only ever possess partial knowledge of languages and experiences yet hold responsibility for safeguarding all? Class readings will introduce students to the literature on the artistic transformation of Arabic script into abstract visual forms (sometimes dubbed “hurufiyya”) and its intersection with decolonization and liberation movements. Class research will involve working with the instructor to identify objects and groups of objects for display, developing histories and interpretations, proposing exhibit case strategies, and composing exhibition narratives in the form of didactic panels and item and case labels. The course is ideal for students interested in the applied aspects of the study of transnational modernism and/or the practice of public art history. Students with language skills in Arabic, Persian, or Urdu are particularly welcomed! We will draw on our collective skill sets in order to realize the exhibition.
This course fulfills the following requirements for the History of Art major: Geographical area (D) and Chronological period (III).
By permission of the instructor. Interested students should add themselves to the waitlist and send a brief statement of interest to firstname.lastname@example.org.